A collection of the week's news from Israel
A service of the Bet El Twinning Committee of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto

 

9 Nisan 5760
April 14, 2000
Issue number 267

News...

Limping Along on Two Tracks

Prime Minister Ehud Barak and U.S. President Bill Clinton met on Tuesday night, with the stalled Syrian and Palestinian diplomatic tracks heading the agenda. White House aides say that seven years of efforts to bring peace between Syria and Israel have gone down the drain, and that "peace will apparently have to wait for the next generation of Syrian leadership." On the Palestinian track, too, the differences between the sides are said to be greater than can be bridged in the foreseeable future. The deadline for the completion of the final-status framework between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is likely to be postponed; it was originally scheduled for February, and is currently set for next month. (arutzsheva.org Apr 11)

Clinton Promise Revealed

The Yesha Council revealed Monday the contents of a signed promise by Bill Clinton to Binyamin Netanyahu in which the former agrees that the third Oslo withdrawal will not surpass 1% of Judea and Samaria. The letter was presented in October, 1998, at the end of the Wye Plantation summit. Barak has reportedly offered a Yesha withdrawal of 20%, in exchange for an Israeli annexation of 10% of the area; Arafat turned it down. (arutzsheva.org Apr 10)

Hizbullah Threats Don't Scare Residents

Monir Makda, Commander of the Lebanese arm of Fatah, announced last Thursday night, "Israel will not enjoy peaceful and quiet borders if it continues with its plans to withdraw… There will be no peace, no security, and no stability." Makda said that not even the United Nations peacekeeping force would be able to guarantee Israel's security after a withdrawal. Hizbullah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah declared last Saturday night that his terrorist organization will continue to attack Israeli targets if the IDF does not retreat from every meter of Lebanese land. He included in his demands the area of Kibbutz Manara, which sits directly astride the border. Residents and leaders of Israel's northern "confrontation line" communities held a stormy demonstration this afternoon, demanding that the government provide explanations regarding the upcoming withdrawal, as well as economic subsidies for the strengthening of their towns. Yisrael Peretz of another border town, Moshav Avivim, explained to Arutz-7 Sunday that the inhabitants want the Prime Minister or other high-ranking figures to sit and meet with them, and discuss their demands for the "economic, social, and of course security fortification of our towns. Up til now, no one, except for one of the local commanders here, has met with us." When asked if Nasrallah's threats move him, Peretz said, "They are simply trying to scare us with their threats of terrorists and katyushas. These threats shouldn't bother us. Instead, we have to show our strength and determination to continue to live here and to protect every piece of our land." (arutzsheva.org Apr 9)

What Are Palestinian Children Studying?

Two Israeli researchers - Israel Resource journalist David Bedein and Palestinian Media Watch Director Itamar Marcus - have just completed a joint study the Palestinian Authority school system. They presented their findings at a joint press conference at the Beit Agron Press Center Sunday. Bedein told Arutz-7's Ron Meir that his research stems from interviews he conducted this winter with Palestinian Authority Ministry of Education officials in Ramallah. "One official told me that between 1967 and 1994, Israel had interfered with Palestinian education, but that 'now, after Oslo, we refuse to accept censorship from Israel.'" Commenting on a new Palestinian civics course to be introduced this September, Bedein said, "I got hold of an advanced copy of the curriculum. It comes replete with maps of 'Palestine,' and the imperative of building in it a new Moslem state. Israel is not even mentioned! For the Palestinians, we apparently don't exist..." Efforts by Israel to introduce materials aimed at promoting normalization between itself and the PA have proven fruitless. At the International Jewish media conference in February, Bedein asked Minister Shimon Peres about the anti-Israel content in the PA curriculum. "Peres began to elaborate on the new curriculum formulated by his Peace Center for use in the Palestinian schools. I countered by pointing out that Arafat had vetoed the curriculum. He stepped away from the microphone, said 'you're right,' and continued his talk..." The two-part study completed by Itamar Marcus deals with PA Teachers' Guides. Marcus writes, "The teachers are instructed to present Israel as a 'thief' void of legitimacy... to deny Israel's right to exist, and inculcate hateful opinions regarding Jews, Zionism and the State of Israel.... The teachers are repeatedly encouraged to indoctrinate the children to be willing and even eager to fight and destroy Israel in Jihad [Holy War]." In a section which studies, in depth, a 12th-grade text entitled "The Contemporary History of the Arabs and the World," the teacher is directed to convey the following messages to students:

Clear Messages at Cairo Conference

"It might have eluded Israeli embassy officials, who went to Cairo University last week to attend a seminar on Jews, Judaism and Zionism, that the university and the majority of Egyptian institutions continue to oppose cultural normalization with Israel. Therefore, it came as no surprise other than to these officials that they were denied access to the university campus." So writes Omayma Abdel-Latif in an article published in the Egyptian Al-Ahram this week. The conference in question focused on a new Egyptian encyclopedia on Jews, Judaism and Zionism. According to Abdel-Latif, the book presents the State of Israel as a national model of a "functional group" which has developed a myth of hypothetical sacred origin and attached itself to a homeland, either real or fictive, from which its citizens came and to which they will eventually return. One speaker at the conference was Al-Ahram writer Mohammed Sid-Ahmed. He criticized "those who have faith in a post-peace arrangement in which both Egypt and Israel coexist under US sponsorship." Why? "Israel's functional role is essentially in contradiction with that of Egypt," explained Sid-Ahmed, "because Egypt's success is achieved through its adherence and commitment to the values which reflect a respect for [Arab] territory, history, heritage, nationalism and civilization." (arutzsheva.org Apr 10)

Yesha Council Demonstrates in Efrat and Har Gilo

The Yesha Council began initial ground work for a new neighborhood on Givat HaZayit in Efrat, Gush Etzion, Tuesday. Prime Minister Barak has refused to approve construction there, despite the fact that all the necessary permits have been procured. Yesha leader Pinchas Wallerstein said, "If Barak decides, dictatorially, to stop this construction, he will be causing an unprecedented rift in the country, because I can tell you categorically that the building here will not be stopped. And if Peace Now comes here to try to 'freeze' the construction, they're 'gonna get it!'…"

The next step of the Yesha Council's new "offensive" was Har Gilo Wednesday. Several Council members arrived with tractors at Har Gilo, 200 meters south of the Jerusalem border. With the noise of tractors in the background, Ya'ir Wolfe, deputy head of the Gush Etzion regional Council, explained that there is no reason not to begin the construction works on the new neighborhood: "We have all the necessary permits, and we are going full-steam ahead. The only reason why the work was stopped over the past few weeks is because of an ultimatum by Arafat." Peace Now activists arrived on the scene with the stated intention of stopping the building, Women in Green demonstrated opposite them, and the police stood in between. MK Tzvi Hendel, who also arrived at Har Gilo, told Arutz-7's Kobi Sela, "I think that the people of Israel will soon wake up when they see the absurd degree to which this situation is headed: a neighborhood so close to Jerusalem, with all the necessary approvals and papers, is stopped simply because Arafat makes a phone call to Barak. This is national weakness the likes of which would be unheard of in any other country... Regarding Peace Now, I'd like to just tell one quick anecdote which sums up the situation nicely. An Arab here today called me over and said, 'Tell me, are they crazy?' 'Who?' I asked, and he pointed at the Peace Now demonstrators, and said, 'Them - those guys who are fighting against their own nation. Are they nuts?' I think this says it all." (arutzsheva.org Apr 12)

Israeli-Arab Students Riot in Hebrew University

Israeli-Arab students at Hebrew University rioted violently Tuesday for over two hours, throwing rocks, bottles, and other objects at police. The violence intensified when Arab MK Azmi Bshara arrived on the scene; MK Ahmed Tibi later joined as well. Individual rioters attempted to physically assault the police, and two policemen were injured in unsuccessful efforts to restrain them. Jerusalem Police Chief Ya'ir Yitzchaki said that the Arab students seemed to be hankering for a fight with the police, and that they had no permit to demonstrate; Bshara screamed out at him, "Liar!" Thirteen Arabs were arrested. The rally started as a protest against the Trans-Israel highway, but quickly deteriorated to shouts of "With blood and fire we will liberate Palestine!" PLO flags were waved by the students as well. The riot occurred at the main entrance to the university's Mt. Scopus campus in Jerusalem. Elyakim Ha'etzni, whose interview with Arutz-7 was interrupted by news of the riots, said, "This ... opens our eyes to the true reality. People are asleep!" (arutzsheva.org Apr 11)

Upgrading the P.A. Para-Military

Yediot Acharonot political commentator Roni Shaked discussed with Arutz-7 Tuesday what he believes is the Palestinians' military option. The idea that Israel and the PA will reach agreement by May or June on issues such as Jerusalem or Palestinian refugees is "laughable," he said: "The argument on Jerusalem is so deep... Can Barak afford to give up even on one centimeter near Jerusalem? We saw what happened a couple of weeks ago when he tried to give away tiny Anata! The same with the refugees..." At the most, Shaked predicts that the PA will receive another 10-15% of Judea and Samaria, "and the area that is now under Palestinian administrative control - Area B - will undergo only a slight change by becoming Area A (under its full military control), and Barak will agree to a Palestinian state on this territory... The Palestinians will have difficulty accepting such a state, however," said Shaked. What could be the response of the PA to the situation? The answer may lie in an article written by Shaked in Yediot Acharonot Tuesday, entitled "Training the Palestinian Police to Become an Army," in which he wrote that the PA is preparing in this way for the declaration of a Palestinian state. "Please, don't refer to the PA forces as policemen," he said today. "We are talking about an army here" - a light infantry division, he wrote - "and whoever does not recognize this is simply mistaken! They have the beginnings of a navy, the first signs of divisions of an air force, light tanks, military academies, commando units..." Shaked added that the PA has recently opened an expanded training facility in Jericho, not far from the Shalom Al Yisrael synagogue there. The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee was informed today that an additional 100 Sa'ar rifles will soon be given to the Palestinians, and another 100 later. "Arafat may learn from Ben-Gurion's example," said Shaked, "of declaring a state with certain borders, and then fighting for it. Even if they don't have tanks, they have mini-tanks, as well as anti-tank missiles. But the issue is not only a question of who is stronger. Even if Israel can easily conquer Ramallah, what are we to do the day after? How do we utilize our military power? Need I remind you that they beat us in one war, using stones?" (arutzsheva.org Apr 11)

Israel's Red Lines

Likud MK Moshe Katzav, spoke with Arutz-7 Monday about Barak and the peace negotiations "The Prime Minister is already, to our chagrin, prepared to withdraw from the Golan Heights, and now the only territorial issue that remains is whether or not to give the Syrians an approach to the Kinneret..." Katzav scoffed at the claim that the failure of the Clinton-Assad talks in Geneva proves that Barak has red lines from which he will not budge. "This notion is pure nonsense," Katzav said. "Where are his red lines? Where are his red lines? If Geneva proved anything, it showed that Israel is completely ready to retreat from the Golan, and that Assad is not satisfied with this! Hafez Assad, in his ongoing display of stubbornness, wins, as time goes on, more and more Israeli concessions." MK Katzav observed that Israel has behaved similarly in relation to the Palestinians. "Israel has stopped insisting that Arafat fulfill his commitments - and I'm not talking about what he pledged to Binyamin Netanyahu, but to Yitzchak Rabin! Barak waived many Israeli demands at Sharm a-Sheikh." Arutz-7 News Editor Haggai Segal pointed out the statement by Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Mussa to the effect that Israeli-Palestinian relations are in worse shape now than they were during the Netanyahu years. Katzav: "This is part of his and Arafat's tactics. We are falling into their trap... When Arafat paints Barak as being 'too tough,' he expects even more capitulations. Give me an example of Barak's so-called 'toughness' in negotiations! Barak long ago capitulated to Arafat, such that now, in Washington, the Prime Minister will be discussing with President Clinton issues such as Jerusalem, the Palestinians' 'right of return,' and other matters, all of which warrant our great concern and trepidation." (arutzsheva.org Apr 10)

Beilin, Money, and Children

Justice Minister Yossi Beilin feels that financial considerations should play a role in the decision to have children - but only if they favor having less children, not more. In an interview with Ha'aretz, Beilin said that large families are often a "burden on society" that condemns children to "hardship" and mothers to a life of "slavery and servitude." On the other hand, he is against the current system of child allowances that awards higher sums per child for families with more children, saying, "This is an incentive for [people to have] more children ... I would not want financial considerations to play any role in the decision to have more children." Minister Beilin also told Voice of Israel Radio Sunday that not only are women burdened who have many children, but society is burdened as well: "It's the right of every person to raise fifteen children, but a couple that does so must realize what tremendous burden he is placing on society," Beilin said. Arutz-7's Ariel Kahane spoke Sunday with Kiryat Shmonah resident and mother of 18, Jacqueline El-Harar. "Large families bring honor to the parents and to the nation as a whole," she said. "Each one of my children has served, is serving, or will serve in the IDF - many as officers... All of them are educated, thank G-d... When [Beilin] talks of a burden upon the state, what is he talking about? What is he rambling about? I think it's people like him who are a burden on the state, with their high [publicly-financed] salaries! At least for the money which it costs the state to help large families, we have something to show in return: children who help build the country!" (arutzsheva.org Apr 9)

Good News from Ashkelon

Commercial production of the large gas deposits found off the Ashkelon coast will be able to begin within two years. The Electric Company will be the first beneficiary of the gas, which is expected to be able to serve Israel's electric needs for at least 15 years. The gas is of high quality, and will not have to be refined. The discovery has already led to the shelving of plans to sign an agreement to import gas from Egypt. (arutzsheva.org Apr 7)

Hareidi Nachal III

The third group of Hareidi Nachal soldiers is enlisting in the army today. The group comprises 50 hareidi soldiers who have decided to enlist for a three-year work/study/army program. (arutzsheva.org Apr 12)

Saving Daylight

Israel's summer time began 2 AM Friday morning, when clocks were moved ahead one hour, thus restoring the seven-hour difference between Israel and New York/Toronto. (arutzsheva.org Apr 12)

 

 

Quotes of the Week...

"When I heard that the talks had failed, I said, 'Thank G-d. Adar is Israel's lucky month. If the summit had taken place during the month of Av, maybe the Golan would have been given away." - Rabbi Yossi Levy, the Rabbi of Katzrin, commenting on the recent summit failure between Presidents Clinton and Assad (Ha'aretz Mar 31)

"The aim of such a request is not to make Syria protect Israeli northern borders, but to put Tel Aviv in the range of the Syrian rockets." - Lebanese Defense Minister Ghazi Zaiter expressing his personal opinion to send Syrian troops to South Lebanon after Israel withdraws. (Jerusalem Post Apr 2)

"I think this is a joke -- a line based on the first of April. We cannot recognise any state based on racism or religion - I refuse to defy the world on this level."

-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi commenting on reports that an Israeli minister was invited to visit Lybia. (Reuters Apr 4)

 

 

Commentary...

Why We are in Hevron by David Wilder

"On the occasion of the thirty second anniversary of the renewal of the Jewish Community of Hebron, I am happy to convey to the entire community blessings of success and shalom. The right of Jews to live tranquilly in the city of the Forefathers securely, protected from all danger, is not disputed." So begins Prime Minister Ehud Barak's letter of good wishes to The Jewish Community of Hebron.

This week the renewed Jewish Community of Hebron will be 32 years old. The day before Passover in 1968 a group of families arrived at the Park Hotel in Hebron. The proprietor rented them half of the kitchen, which they promptly koshered. The women and children slept in the rooms; the men and boys slept in the lobby and on the floor. It was the first Jewish Pesach in Hebron since 1936.

Following the riots, massacre and exile in 1929, a small group of Jews returned to Hebron in 1931. About thirty families lived in the city until just after Passover, 1936, when they were expelled by the British. Following the 1967 Six-Day War, Jews again had access to the first Jewish city in Israel. In 1968 they officially came back home. Moshe Dayan z"l, then Minister of Defense, arrived in Hebron shortly after Passover. Following several weeks of discussions he offered the group two choices: either be forcibly removed from the city, or go live in the Hebron military compound, several kilometers outside the center of the city. This building, originally a British police station, had been transformed into the Israeli military Headquarters of Judea. It was not overly conducive to a civilian lifestyle. Dayan must have expected that the young families, including women and babies, would soon throw up their arms in frustration at the poor living conditions and leave of their own accord.

Dayan was partially correct. The group did eventually leave. But first they lived in the military headquarters for two and half years, until the first neighborhood of the newly founded Hebron suburb, Kiryat Arba, was completed.

There was, however, a yearning to return to Hebron, to Beit Hadassah, to the 450 year old Jewish Quarter, home of the ancient Avraham Avinu Shul, to reside adjacent to Ma'arat HaMachpela. Attempts were made, again and again, all leading to failure. Only in 1979, when Menachem Begin was Prime Minister, did a group of 10 women and 40 children succeed in setting up house in the basement of the old medical center, Beit Hadassah, in the middle of the city. Living in adverse conditions for close to a year, these women and childen became the nucleus of Hebron's renewed Jewish community. In 1980, following the murder of six young men outside Beit Hadassah, the Israeli government finally gave official recognition and authorization of Hebron's Jewish Community.

The present Jewish Community of Hebron numbers some six hundred people, including 60 families, over 300 children, and 150 post-high school yeshiva students studying at Yeshivat Shavei Hevron in Beit Romano. The reason there aren't more people living in Hebron is simply because of lack of space. There are not any apartments available. Two new buildings, allowing room for 12 new families, are virtually finished and should be totally occupied shortly after Passover. Were there more room in Hebron, there would be many more Jews living in the city.

However, in spite of the small size of the community, according to number received from the IDF and Civil Administration, well over 500,000 people visit Hebron and Ma'arat HaMachpela annually, in spite of transfer of over 80% of the city to Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. The tremendous support generated for Hebron around the world is beyond doubt.

Why do we choose to live in Hebron? Again, the answer is quite simple. Last June, a group of people associated with the New Israel Fund visited Hebron.

Following a short visit on the Jewish side of the city, they crossed the 'border' and met with Hebron's Arab mayor, Mustepha Natsche. They asked him whether Jews were allowed to pray at Ma'arat HaMachpela, the second holiest site to the Jewish people in the world. His answer greatly surprised them. He said no. "Ma'arat HaMachpela is a mosque, and only Moslems can pray in a Mosque," said Arab Mayor Mustepha Natsche.

The Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs was off-limits to Jews for 700

years. During that time Jews, (as well as Christians), were not allowed inside the 2,000 year old Herodian structure atop the Caves of Machpela. Today we are told by Hebron's Arab Mayor that should he (i.e. the Palestinian Authority) ever again control all of Hebron, again this holy site will be closed to anyone not Moslem.

The only reason that Ma'arat HaMachpela is still accessible to Jews is because there is a permanent Jewish presence in the city. The disappearance of the Jewish Community of Hebron would be tantamount to abandoning our Patriarchs and Matriarchs. Could any Jew, be they religious or secular, dream of abandoning the Fathers and Mothers of our people?

What is our goal, living in Hebron? Despite media reports, the goal of Hebron's Jewish community is not to expel the Arabs living here. Anyone of any race or religion should be able to live in Hebron. However, we demand that our Arab neighbors accept the fact that the Jews have an eternal, legitimate right to live in the first Jewish city in the land of Israel. This is our goal: living normal lives, just as anyone else, anywhere in Israel.

Prime Minister Barak's blessings to Hebron continued: "The test of the renewed Hebron Jewish community, which is the same test of the Arab majority, is the ability to develop good neighborly relationships. Mutual honor and a joint effort are necessary to overcome the scars, the pain and the difficult reminders left from the despicable carnage which desecrated this holy city."

Hebron's Jewish Community could not agree more with this statement. The time has come for our Arab neighbors to stop throwing rocks and firebombs at us, for no other reason than because we are Jews living in Hebron. The time has come for them to stop shooting at us and stabbing us, for no other reason than because we are Jews living in Hebron. Perhaps they believe that by killing us, or by attempting to murder us, they will scare us away. They cannot be further from the truth, because Hebron is the heart of the Jewish people, the life-blood from which the Jewish people derives its sanctity. This is a truth that even a left-wing prime minister not only understands, but also agrees with. We truly hope and pray for the day when true peace will prevail, both in Hebron, and throughout the land of Israel. (The Jewish Community of Hebron April 6)

 

 

Eight Questions on Lebanon By David Weinberg

Withdrawing unilaterally from Lebanon sometime very soon is all the rage. It has become the politically correct thing to do. Woe be to the politician that speaks out against the imminent pullback.

Perhaps I have the luxury of playing the skeptic - because at present I don't have a son in uniform serving north of the border - but I fear that we're about to shoot ourselves in the foot. There is absolutely no guarantee that things will be better after we withdraw from Lebanon.

Indeed, there is reason to believe that the security situation up north, and our regional and international diplomatic position, will worsen.

But nobody dares talk about this. It is not politically correct. The polls show broad majorities in favor of quick withdrawal. And besides, Ehud Barak has an election promise to live up to. The promise to withdraw from Lebanon by hook or by crook is just about the only election promise, of many, that Barak has any chance of fulfilling by the end of his first year in office.

Nevertheless, I'd like some answers to the central questions posed by the apparently unstoppable withdrawal:

  1. Will a unilateral pull-out seriously endanger Israeli civilians in their homes along the border with Lebanon? What is the "acceptable" amount of casualties among northern civilians in their homes that we are prepared to live with; i.e., a number that is lower than the number of soldiers we have been losing inside Lebanon each year?
  2. Will the sufficient outfitting of northern towns with improved security apparatus be ready in time for the scheduled withdrawal? How will these measures guard against mortars and Katyushas?
  3. What eventuality is more problematic for us, and will Israel act to prevent: A rain of Hizbullah cross-border attacks? A series of Hizbullah Katyusha rocket attacks deep inside Israel? Renewed Palestinian terrorist activity from Lebanon? The movement of Syrian troops down to southern Lebanon?
  4. Do we think that our longtime allies, the South Lebanese Army, can hold out or reach accommodation with the Lebanese government, or is it more than likely that these steadfast allies and their families will be massacred after an IDF withdrawal? Who will do business with us in the future after we obtain a reputation for abandoning our friends? Are we doing everything possible - and if so, what, to ensure the long-term safety of our allies?
  5. Last month, Yossi Beilin and other cabinet ministers voted against the IDF air strikes on Lebanese electricity transformers, fretting that the IDF was not an "army of vengeance." Yossi Sarid abstained. With such enlightened sensibilities at the cabinet table, exactly how are we going to deter Hizbullah attacks across our northern border after we withdraw?
  6. What exactly are the tools of deterrence and punishment this government is going to be prepared to employ to maintain security on our northern border? "A child for a child; blood for blood" as our blustering, swaggering Foreign Minister David Levy has threatened? A direct hit on Syrian and Iranian installations in Lebanon? Or, will we content ourselves with vague threats of future retaliation that frighten no one - this has the pattern until now - and explain to ourselves that restraint is good because otherwise Katyushas will pepper the Galilee and Hizbullah will attack Israeli and Jewish institutions abroad? Is Hizbullah really going to be afraid of us, after running the almighty IDF out of Lebanon?
  7. If and when the IDF is forced into "massive retaliation" for an unacceptable series of Hizbullah outrages across our northern border, and an IDF bomb inevitably goes astray and lands in a Lebanese schoolyard - how long will it take until the bleeding hearts take to Kikar Rabin, moaning about our "shame" and screaming for Barak's resignation?
  8. We keep hearing that once Israel withdraws to the international border "no one will question" our right to respond militarily if attacked, and that "all our allies, even the French, absolutely will back up Israel when she has to hit back hard." Oh really? The Egyptian press and leadership, busy these months calling Barak a Nazi (Al Ahram February 13, Akhbar Al-Yom February 19, October and Al Ghomoriyyah February 20, etc.), will endorse Israel's right to self-defense after we plunge all of Lebanon into three weeks of darkness? How about President Chirac of France, who raked his foreign minister over the coals for having the temerity to call Hizbullah attacks "terrorist"? And Washington? Two days of CNN pining about "wanton Israeli destruction" in Lebanon and the administration will be all over us, pressing for our "restraint."

We must remember that we haven't been in Lebanon all these years for no good reason. Where, oh where, is the reasoned debate on this critical national decision? (Jerusalem Post Apr 9)

 

 

A Lesson Courtesy of the Turks By Daniel Pipes

How can Israel staunch its wounds in southern Lebanon, where about a thousand of its soldiers have been killed over two decades?

One route - preferred by the Barak government and most Israelis - is to reach a deal with President Hafez Assad of Syria, the man who makes the key decisions in Lebanon. The hope of closing this deal helps explain why several Israeli governments have shown such extraordinary flexibility in dealing with the strongman of Damascus, even to the point of offering him the Golan Heights, hoping this will put a stop to missiles and terrorists crossing the border.

But this hope is premised on the dubious assumption that Assad would keep promises after getting back the Golan: a close look at his record shows a nearly perfect thirty-year history of breaking his word with everyone - Turks, Lebanese, Israelis, Jordanians, Russians, and Americans. Even after he has the Golan, there is good reason to suppose Hizbullah would still harass Israel.

Stronger medicine is needed.

Turkey's recent experience suggests what that might be. Starting in 1984, a Marxist-Leninist organization, the Worker's Party of Kurdistan (PKK), began using Syria as a launching board for terrorist attacks on Turkey. By 1987, this insurgency had grown so much that the Turkish president traveled to Damascus to demand its cessation; Assad duly agreed, and in July 1987, their two governments solemnly signed a security protocol promising to "obstruct groups engaged in destructive activities directed against one another on their own territory and would not turn a blind eye to them in any way." But this agreement did little good, as PKK attacks soon picked up again.

In fact, the situation got so bad that the Turkish president took the unprecedented step, in October 1989, of publicly threatening Damascus to live up to the 1987 agreement or find its water supply diminished. This warning did lead to a reduction in PKK attacks, but not for long.

By 1992, Turkish officials began speaking publicly about the PKK problem; the Syrians responded by signing a second security protocol. Within months, however, attacks resumed. In late 1993, a top Turkish official delivered a first military warning: "Turkey cannot tolerate terrorist attacks from any of its neighbors... The necessary answer will be given." More rounds of talks and agreements followed, all to little effect. A pattern had evolved: Turkish threats, a Syrian lull, a resumption in attacks, followed by new Turkish threats and another cycle.

Turks grew increasingly agitated as Syrians made promises they did not carry out. Finally, in mid-September 1998, Ankara got serious and made a series of specific demands of Damascus (drop claims to Turkish territory, close down PKK camps, and extradite the PKK leader) as top officials delivered a volley of portentous messages. "We are losing our patience and we retain the right to retaliate against Syria," the president announced. The prime minister accused Syria of being "the headquarters of terrorism in the Middle East" and warned Damascus that the Turkish army was "awaiting orders" to attack. The chief of staff described relations with Damascus as an "undeclared war." Every political party in parliament signed a statement calling on Syria to cut its support for the PKK or "bear the consequences." The media went into high gear, reporting every development in inflamed tones.

Military exercises near the Syrian border began.

Then, suddenly, Assad caved, unconditionally expelling the PKK leader and ending Syrian aid to the PKK. More: this time he kept his word. Turkish officials say they are satisfied with Syria's actions and tensions have been diffused. There is now talk of increasing trade and visitors already are crossing the border in greater numbers.

All of which implies a major question for Israel: Could it be that the negotiations with Damascus, underway since 1991, are futile? That the only way to stop the violence is by emulating the Turks and making a credible threat of force? Something like: "Mr. Assad: Stop Hizbullah or else... "

A few Israeli voices have indeed called for this "Turkish model" - prominent names including Uzi Landau, Efraim Inbar, and Eli Karmon. But theirs are still voices in the wind. Only in time, as a negotiated settlement with Damascus still does not happen or (worse) proves illusory, will Israelis realize that there is no substitute for a forceful policy toward Damascus.

Totalitarian dictators understand this language and none other.

The writer is director of the Middle East Forum and author of three books on Syria. (Jerusalem Post Apr 12)

 

 

Damascus Can Wait By Zalman Shoval

Though the recent meeting in Geneva between President Clinton and Syrian President Hafez Assad ended in abject failure, there are now indications that Mr. Clinton - and perhaps also Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak who is visiting Washington this week - may make another attempt to reach a deal with the Syrian dictator. They shouldn't.

The basic issues of Syrian-Israeli peace didn't change over the years, nor did Syria's intransigent positions on them - be it security, water, the nature of a future, peaceful relationship between the two countries - and most importantly on the territorial aspects, i.e., the location of the borders, and the future status of the Golan Heights which till 1967 had served as a "launching-pad" for incessant attacks on Israeli farmers in the valley below.

American diplomats, over the years, have been active in trying to forge an Israeli-Syrian agreement in spite of the obvious difficulties. These efforts intensified after the failure of the Shepherdstown conference in January. America's interest in establishing Israeli-Syrian peace, in addition to its commendable commitment to peace for its own sake, is to create a greater measure of pro-Western stability in the region as a whole, but whether this expectation, given the nature of the present Syrian regime, is based on solid ground, is questionable.

For its part, the Syrian regime sees a peace agreement with Israel as a way to enhance its own military prowess, not least against America's ally, Israel. Though it is difficult to imagine a responsible American administration, let alone Congress, granting military aid to Hafez Assad's Syria, money - as James Baker used to say - is fungible, and there are plenty of other arms-suppliers, Russia and France, to mention just two, who would be only too happy to sell Damascus whatever it wants for good old American dollars. None of America's well-intentioned efforts have worked so far - though successive Israeli governments had given more than one indication of being ready for far-reaching compromise.

Peace with Syria is definitely in Israel's interest, and all Israeli governments have been willing to make important concessions, including extensive changes in the present delineation of the borders - but there is no more reason to reward Syrian aggression against Israel than there was in the case of Iraq's aggression against Kuwait. To make matters worse, the Syrians, in demanding an Israeli withdrawal to the June 1967 armistice line, covet not only the whole of the Golan, but also integral parts of Israel proper - including the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee which they had seized by force in 1948-49 and held onto illegally till being driven out by Israel in the Six Day War.

Syria's attitude, to say the least, is puzzling. Objectively speaking, time has not worked in Syria's favor. Syria could probably have had an agreement with Israel during the Rabin-Peres governments, but then as now it couldn't make up its mind. In the 22 years since, to Syria's consternation, Egypt made peace with Israel. Things have not gone well for Damascus, Syria having become a failed and regressive country in most respects: 1) It no longer has the Soviet Union to lend it military or political clout. 2) It is technologically backward and its economy is in dire straits - and were it not for the ill-gotten gains it derives from its control over Lebanon, it would even be worse

Syria's one important other source of revenue is oil - and that, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Energy - is going to run out within 5-10 years. All in all, Mr. Assad certainly isn't the world's blue-eyed boy - and with good reason. Moreover, if 20 or even five years ago one could still argue that without Syria there could be no peace between Israel and other Arab or Muslim countries, the fact is that Israel has by now de facto and often de jure relations with many Arab and Muslim countries throughout the world.

The question, therefore, arises what possible motive is there for Mr. Assad's intransigent, and basically self-defeating, position? Maybe it is the hope that the Barak government in Israel will, after all, accept his unrealistic conditions? Or, is it that he believes that America could be persuaded to back Syria on the border issue? In the past, there was Syria's leverage on Israel in connection with the terrorist activities of its Lebanese proxy - Hezbollah - but after Mr. Barak's militarily debatable, but politically astute, decision to withdraw, if need be, unilaterally, from Israel's security-zone in southern Lebanon in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 425, that leverage no longer exists.

Actually, Syria is now facing a new dilemma in addition to the one it already has, i.e., its military dictatorship being far from certain whether it can actually afford to make peace with Israel and still hold on to power - while, on the other hand, given Syria's appalling economic situation being just as uncertain if it can afford not to make peace. But now the Syrian leadership also has to come to a decision whether to rein in the Hezbollah even without an agreement with Israel on the Golan - or, conversely, to whip up terrorist attacks against Israel and risk Israeli reprisals of a magnitude and direction it hadn't experienced before. There is an additional factor: If the reports about Mr. Assad's declining health are correct, it would certainly be wiser for Israel and America to see how things in Syria unfold in the post-Assad era - before making irretrievable decisions.

Taking all this into consideration, Israel has no real motive to rush into an agreement with Syria, certainly not on Syria's terms - nor would there be a reason for the United States to urge Israel into that direction.

The writer is former Israeli ambassador to the United States.

(Washington Times Apr 11)


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